It could be argued that a truly silent comic is devoid of any sound whatsoever. Personally I don’t take such a strict view. In my opinion a silent comic is a comic whose narrative is driven by sequential imagery alone without the use of dialogue between characters. I feel that the use of onomatopoeia, words which represent sounds, for example writing the word “sizzle” next to a frying pan to indicate food is cooking, is permissable. This is a view shared by many comic artists whose work would be considered to be silent including Jason (See Figure 1) and David Berona.
The first use example of graphically depicted sound in comics can be traced back to Roy Cranes 1924 news stripe Wash Tubb (Figure 2). However many people maybe onomatopoeia in comics we will think of the action sounds of superhero comic, perhaps most memorably depicted in the in the 1960’s Batman tv series when each punch thrown by a character was accompanied by a visual depiction of sounds with words such as “Blam” or “Pow” being presented to the viewer.
Onomatopoeia however can be a very powerful device within silent comics and is often used in a more subtle way that that traditionally seen in superhero comics. It can be used to add atmosphere to the diegesis and to emphasis actions between characters. Often onomatopoeia is used in these comics to indicate the ambience of a location, mood of action of a character, an action. The use of onomatopoeia in this way can help create an engaging environment which helps to draw the reader into the story without actually providing the narrative.
Onomatopoeia is employed by various silent comic artists in an array of different ways to suit the needs of their stories. Jason for example often uses onomatopoeia for comedic effect. David Berona uses it to create an ambience for his environments. Jon McNaught uses it to highlight the silence among characters creating a sense of tension.
To me the challenge in creating silent comics is to unfold a narrative without the use of words to explicitly narrate the story to the reader. Onomatopoeia is there merely incidental in silent comics, it adds an extra layer to the mood and the experience of the story which helps to emerge the reader more completely but the readers interpretation of the narrative is not dependant upon it.